Urne – A Feast on Sorrow Review

I like metal to have an emotional heart to it. By this, I mean that, when I’m listening to a record, I want to feel that a band has poured some of itself into the music. Now, I get this is not for everyone and there is undoubtedly a place for straightforward riffs that one can just switch off and headbang to. That is not A Feast for Sorrow, the sophomore album from UK trio Urne, a band Metal Archives wholly inaccurately brands as “Stoner/Sludge Metal/Metalcore.” At a real push, parts of Urne’s debut full-length, 2021’s Serpent & Spirit, could be called progressive stoner but you will be very confused going into that record using that tag for guidance. Whatever you want to brand it (other than metalcore, which it simply isn’t), Urne’s music caught the attention of, among others, Gojira’s Joe Duplantier, who has championed the band since, including by offering the use of his Brooklyn studio, Silver Chord, and indeed getting involved in the recording sessions for A Feast on Sorrow. But have they Urned his support?

Firmly anchored in a progressive sound that borders on both post-death and post-hardcore, Urne’s new record wears its heart on its sleeve, having been written against the backdrop of two of bassist and singer Joe Nally’s family suffering from degenerative illnesses. That pain is writ large on A Feast on Sorrow, both lyrically and in the pulsating, at times chaotic, sound of the album. A mix of Damnation-era Opeth and mid-career Mastodon, with maybe a little of Gojira’s Magma in there too (“Becoming the Ocean”), there’s a lot going on. Both heavier and more melodic than Serpent & Spirit, Nally empties himself on the record, screaming his frustration and pain to the heavens. Guitarist Angus Neyra (ex-Hang the Bastard, like Nally) crafts some memorable, crunching riffs (like the one that drops about a minute and a half into 11-minute standout “A Stumble of Words,” which comes straight out of Opeth’s “Serenity Painted Death” playbook), while new drummer, James Cook, is allowed free rein, roaming from furious, percussive double bass impacts to more progressive flights of fancy.

The album has an emotional arc that, I imagine, tracks Nally’s emotions. Opening in frantic, raucous, thrashy mien on “The Flood Came Rushing In,” A Feast on Sorrow gathers heft and heaviness, but also nuance and melody, as it approaches its midway point. “A Stumble of Words” sees Nally pushing himself in several directions behind the mic, his voice almost breaking at the edge of his post-hardcore barking roars, while also flirting with some rough cleans that reminded a bit of Dvne’s Etemen Ænka. Urne are at their heaviest and most crushing on “Becoming the Ocean,” as they venture into Herod territory. As we enter the home straight, the title track opens with a contemplative, almost uplifting, piano melody before another crushing riff from Neyra slams you back underwater. The exhausted melancholy of acoustic interlude “Peace” provides a brief respite before the final push, closer “The Long Goodbye, Where do the Memories Go?,” a track that wraps the flow and journey of the whole record into its own 11-plus minute run.

A Feast on Sorrow is a skillfully written album, with a great flow to it. But I have two problems with the album, which, while they don’t stop me from enjoying Urne, put an upper limit on just how much I can enjoy it. The first is Nally’s vocals. He’s a versatile vocalist. Willing to switch regularly between hardcore-esque rough vox, into proper harsh screams and dabbling in cleans, he’s the very definition of a jack of all trades, master of none. To be clear, his work behind the mic is nearly all solid, and some of it is very good but not everything works (some of the cleans around two and a half minutes into the title track, for example) and, given the emotional heart of A Feast on Sorrow, it needed a stronger narrator to really hook me in and match the lyrics. The second problem is the production. A lot is made of this in the very extensive promo notes and, while the sound and tone of the instruments are good, feeling organic and vibrant, the master is way too loud, with the vocals and particularly the drums both far too high in the mix, often drowning out the guitars.

When I review an album with a story of pain and hurt behind it like A Feast on Sorrow, I immediately want to love and be hooked by it. When Urne really hit their stride, like on “A Stumble of Words” and “Becoming the Ocean,” the material is stellar but the combination of the production issues and lack of a truly great vocal performance ultimately limits A Feast on Sorrow to “just” good.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: N/A | Format Reviewed: Stream only
Label: Candlelight Records
Websites: urne.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/urneband
Releases Worldwide: August 11th, 2023

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